Alumni Spotlight Archive
Wherever inspiration leads, success follows for Bellwood native
Triton College alumnus Linal Harris makes success look easy. The Bellwood native kicked off his professional career as a supervisor, which catapulted him up the corporate ladder to his current position, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of U.S. Cellular, after spending 8 years with the company. At 37 years old, Harris has amassed numerous honors and awards, including being recognized by the Chicago Urban Roundtable as being one of “40 Game Changers under 40” for 2012 and receiving the 2013 Men of Excellence award from the Chicago Defender. He’s also an inspirational speaker and radio show host who shares his experiences and message of influencing change to the masses.
Harris may make it look simple to rise to the top, so to speak, but he’ll be the first to tell you that it isn’t easy and that all roads leading to success run through higher education.
“A favorite quote of mine is by Lewis Carroll: ‘If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there,’ Harris said. “If you take the time to get clear about who you want to be and where you’re headed, you’ll begin to clearly see which roads you should and shouldn’t take. Education is definitely a road we should all take.”
Harris holds an Associate in Science degree from Triton College and volunteers his time at high schools encouraging students to further their education.
What have been some obstacles you've had to overcome in pursuit of your education and career goals?
Like most young people who attend Triton, I experienced a plethora of obstacles. The most prominent of those obstacles were my lack of financial resources. Having financial obligations created the need for a job, which, of course, cut into my study time. I can remember driving home from work, completely exhausted, knowing that if I wanted to graduate, I would need to stay up another three to four hours to study. It all came down to choice. I wanted to get my degree from Triton, so I pushed through my exhaustion and studied. At this point in my life, I’m so glad that kid back then made the right decision.
What or who has served as a source of inspiration in your career and/or your personal life?
It is my personal belief that inspiration is all around us. Inspiration can be found in everything and anything we see. My parents were a tremendous source of inspiration for me as a child. Their love and guidance must be acknowledged as formidable forces in my life.
My father taught me two things that stick with me to this day: The first lesson he taught by example was the importance of work ethic. Just being in his space as a child, I could see the importance of hard, consistent work. I remember my dad always having a job and then working small painting gigs on his days off. The second lesson came from his love for the Book of Proverbs in the Bible. As a result, he would force my brother and me to sit with him and read the book of King Solomon. I owe what wisdom I have to those unintentional lessons.
My mother is a natural teacher and has always been loving and selfless. She continually looks for ways to help others and ease their discomfort. I believe that her gift for teaching coupled with an abundance of love is what ultimately kept me on the right path during my late teens and early 20’s. This of course, was right about the time I attended Triton.
I also have two virtual mentors who have provided me with inspiration when I’ve needed it most. Frederick Douglass is the first of the two, followed by none other than the late great Dr. Martin Luther King. Both men have proven that anyone can conquer insurmountable odds if they believe in God and exercise discipline and self-confidence in all that you put your hands to.
What would you describe as your strong suit - whether skills or qualities?
I’m an optimist. I believe in the people around me. I see the good in those around me. I believe this is why I embody the ingredients of an inspirational leader. I’m also a perpetual learner. I stay in the state of curiosity. This has been a gift that has allowed me to always stay fresh and on the cutting edge of new information.
What Advice would you give someone who would like to pursue a career in your field?
My advice for anyone who wants to get into my line of work or any other field is simple. First, make sure that the work you choose aligns with your passions. It is easier to excel at a career you genuinely love. Secondly, if you’re unsure about what you want to do… no worries… just get a degree. I received an associate degree in science because I thought I wanted to be an engineer. Shortly afterwards, I did work in project management, then spent 14 years in domestic and global operations and the last two years in human resources and diversity. The world is changing. The internet provides us all an opportunity to learn what we choose to learn and prepare ourselves for opportunity.
So… only pursue your passions. Get a degree. Never stop learning.
What are your words of wisdom for current Triton students?
Fix your mind on what you want to achieve and who you want to be! See the picture of who you will be, where you will work and what you will drive so clearly in your mind that you can taste and feel it. When you feel confused, unsure, discouraged and exhausted remember that picture you’ve created and then focus on the one tangible thing you know you can do to make that picture come true. No matter how complex life can get, just remember it can only present itself in small pieces. So if you ever feel overwhelmed, deal with life in small pieces. Ask yourself these questions:
• What do I need to do in the next minute to make my vision come true?
• What do I need to do in the next hour to make my vision come true?
• What do I need to do in the next day to make my vision come true?
What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future are to simply live out my chief aim and purpose on this planet. The action statement for my chief aim and purpose is as follows:
"I will learn with fervor, speak to and teach others all over the world with passion. I will be an authentic leader and speaker, who leads and speaks with the purpose to help others and myself live the best life possible. I will love hard, work hard and play harder. I will leave a legacy for my family and a positive mark on this world.”
In the future, as long as I am doing what I love for money at a pace that is beneficial for my family and me, I will be happy.
In the next five to 10 years, if I am not leading someone else’s company, I’d very much like to be leading my own. Either way, I would be traveling the world, teaching, motivating, and inspiring everyone I come into contact with to murder mediocrity and live their best life possible.
To learn more about Linal Harris, visit his blog at linalharris.com. (Note: IE 9, Firefox 12.0 or Chrome 30.0.1599.66 or higher browser versions may be required to display this page)
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